Laxmii opens with a scene of a woman being hassled by a fraud saint in front of her husband and many other villagers. She apparently has been possessed by a chudail, claims the baba and despite her protests, her husband and the rest of the village believes him as he tries to prove his point by displaying magic. Then comes Asif (Akshay Kumar), the logical man who debunks this mystic’s magic by putting forward scientific theories and misogynistic remarks.
And of course, he was successful—the woman in distress is asked to go home happily with her husband who just a few seconds ago was allowing violence on his wife by at least a hundred people.
Our hero is a Muslim man who does not fit into the stereotypes that Bollywood usually portray. However to break all other stereotypes, the film and all its characters create an uncountable number of other stereotypes. Laxmii, the horror-comedy film with a supposed social message is neither scary nor funny and for a trans-queer person and a woman, it has left me deeply wounded. I don’t know if at all the film has succeeded in tickling anyone’s funny bone but it has with all that it is, successfully ridiculed the transgender identity.
A Cisgender Starring Film On Transgender People
Trans/queer/gender non-conforming folkx struggle everyday to find a place where they would be recognised for their talents, and their identities will be acknowledged. Not everyday does Bollywood make a film centering around the life of a transgender person and when it does, a cis person nonchalantly takes up the opportunity to play a role which only and only belongs to a trans person.
When this criticism was put forward for Laxmii before the film was released, there was a whole narrative on how the film is actually about a ghost who possesses a man. Even if I give in to that argument and accept this deliberate erasure of a possibility to cast a trans person, why was the background story of Laxmii, when she was alive and fighting, played by a cis-man (Sharad Kelkar)?
Casual Misogyny, Body Shaming and Passing Mis-Information
The film successfully fails to generate any emotional value at any point of time and yet does not fail to pass on wrong information. For example, statements like “Trans people are who they are for they have some hormonal difference.” When the child Laxmii (Aryan Preet) was being thrown out of her house, she tries to explain to her father that it is not her fault and it is all just a hormonal locha. I was triggered by the scene because I was asked this question so many times in my life, “Are you like this because you have some hormonal issue?”
Apart from this, Asif swears to wear bangles if he ever sees a ghost and he casually body shames his slim wife by calling her fat. Is fat-shaming what we still call humor in 2020?
Appropriation Of The Kinnar Identity
The Haldi and the Sindur have ritualistic significance for the Kinnar community in India, but that is not all there is that represents them. The film made sure that every stereotype is reinforced without enough background information. Where is Laxmii from? Which part of India? How did Laxmii become an ardent fighter? How did Geeta, Laxmii’s chosen daughter become a politician and what were her struggles?
In an attempt to become a beacon of hope for the transgender community, the film, with its own imagination, created a box that the trans community has always been asked to forcefully fit into.
A Terrible Remake
Laxmii, a remake of the 2011 film Kanchana has miserably failed to consider that our perspectives have evolved in these nine years. Raghava Lawrence felt no need to change his plot to accommodate any of it, or was it expected that trans folks should be happy with whatever they receive and be grateful that Bollywood is at least thinking about them even if it is in their nightmares?
Capitalising On The Trans Identity: A ‘Progressive’ Failure
Trans activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi had been very vocal about supporting the film. In her interviews, she stated that someone like Akshay Kumar playing a trans character would bring in a lot of visibility for trans people and their struggles.
I am sorry but I cannot agree. I would have most certainly celebrated him if instead of doing the role himself would have given it to a trans person and used his visibility to promote the film. I would have given him a round of applause if he did not think that he could represent the struggles and the life of a trans person through a horror film and get away with it. I refuse to be made fun of, to be terrified of. I ask and I know that we deserve more and we will not settle for any less.
An interfaith marriage, a modern family, a non-stereotypical man would have been great if the film was not all about how a man is the ultimate savior and if it did not take a trans person to die and become a ghost to find a place in Bollywood.
Indeed and undeniable this Akshay Kumar and Kaira Advari starrer film is a 140 minutes waste of time. It serves no purpose, fulfills no goals and fails to draw out any emotions except for shame. It is poorly made, has no cinematic marvel and is of course the worst film of 2020! Period.